FC Dallas has fostered on of the best youth development programs not only in the United States but arguably in the world given the constant success in the USSDA (U. S. Soccer Development Academy) and in Dallas Cup (a premier international youth tournament held annually in Dallas).
Ricardo Pepi is the 26th homegrown product that FC Dallas has signed that has gone through the successful Academy that calls Frisco, Texas it’s home. For many of the young players in the Academy, going professional is not only a dream but a reality that has become more attainable with the creation of North Texas Soccer Club.
North Texas SC, which competes in USL League One, is the next step for young players hoping to play for FC Dallas one day. With the League One club having an emphasis on development and with head coach Eric Quill, who has coached Christian Cappis and Chris Richards, at the helm, some Academy players have already gotten a taste at what professional soccer is like.
“Getting minutes with the North Texas team have been very helpful,” defender Kevin Bonilla told Dallas Sports Nation (DSN). “It’s a little faster, bigger, stronger, more experienced. Those games have helped me a lot. Going back and forth is a challenge but it was worth it, and it has been worth it. I hope to always get those minutes and to earn those minutes.”
Kevin Bonilla plays for the FC Dallas U-19’s Academy team and North Texas SC fans have gotten accustomed to the service that he provides to the defensive as a full-back. Bonilla, along with his U-19 teammates Imanol Almaguer and Tanner Tessman, is one of the many FC Dallas Academy players that have gotten a chance to prove themselves at the professional level as they aim to advance their careers as they take the next step in their professional development.
North Texas SC has played several FC Dallas Academy players already, as some have begun to make a consistent appearance in the squad. Many of these Academy players come from the U-19 team who made it to the National Championship where they fell to New York City FC, 1-2. The FC Dallas U-19’s finished the regular season first in the Frontier Division with 61 points with a 20-1-3 record. The U-19’s were able to finish 9 points ahead of Barca Academy, the FC Barcelona Youth Residency Academy in the United States located in Casa Grande Arizona, for the top seed in the United States.
“We started strong,” midfielder Tanner Tessmann stated when talking about the Academy season. “We played good all through the season and we obviously finished in the first seed of the country so that was good going into the playoffs. We did good in the group stage and all the way to the final. We just fell short in the final and it’s disappointing, but we are proud of the group because one game doesn’t define us. I think that team is incredible, and I think that if you look in five years where us players are going to be, all of them are going to be in professional teams. I love that year and I’ll look back and remember it all the time. It was a great year for me.”
As the Academy season was ending, North Texas SC’s season carried on and these young players had as much as a role in the League One team as they did for their Academy teams. 11 Under-19 players were listed on the gameday roster as 7 of those players would eventually make their way onto the field while 4 Under-17 players made the gameday roster while 3 of them saw the professional field. Making the jump between the Academy and North Texas SC doesn’t come without its own challenges. The speed of play at the professional game is faster and there are more experienced players who play a more physical game. Making the jump required for many of these players to adjust as they were called in to help the professional development team.
“It’s tough but the hardest thing is probably playing with different players and playing with different teams because of the chemistry that you have,” Tessmann explained. “Obviously, the eighteens group, we’ve been playing together for a long time, so the chemistry is there and whereas you come to North Texas and you have some pros playing down and Academy players playing up. You just got to adapt to the players and once you can do that you can play with any team in the world.”
Adjust they did as many of the players have made impacts on the field for both North Texas SC and their Academy teams. From June to July, the FC Dallas Academy teams were partaking in their playoffs which took place in Irvine California. There were many flights from California to where North Texas SC was to play their next match.
“There was one point where I remember we just finished quarters and we had to wake up the next morning at 4 AM to play,” Bonilla said. “It was interesting, but it was worth it, we came down here and got the win. We got some rest a little bit after, but it was all worth it and we got those minutes in and I hope it pays off in the future.”
There were four games that North Texas SC played that coincided with the dates for the Academy playoffs as North Texas SC came away with 7 points in 4 games. One of those games was against Forward Madison FC which was, to date of publication, the biggest loss for North Texas as they fell 1-4 in “El Plastico.” Getting playtime is something that any player wants at the Academy or professional game. For some, the travel and congested match schedule was not an issue but an opportunity for some players.
“I think it was pretty good just having a bunch of games in one month,” defender and midfielder Imanol Almaguer said with a smile. “It was just like you had a lot of energy, so we were just fit all the time. You could run like forever, so it wasn’t really a problem. It was just mental, but I didn’t think it was a challenge [because] it’s just playing soccer.”
“That’s the next step in professional and development growth,” Tessmann shared with DSN. “It was hard at times, we played in the quarterfinals in playoffs and some of us flew the next day straight to the North Texas game in Virginia. It’s tough but you got to adapt to it, and you got to be ready for everything because the coaches are going to manage our load. They know what they can get out of us. It’s what you want at the next level, so you have to push yourself and believe in yourself even when confidence drops.”
While the end result may have not been what many of the players would have wanted, they can still be proud of the success that the Academy season held and for the opportunities that they have earned. For now, many of these players will focus on earning minutes with North Texas SC and continue to prove why they deserve to play at the professional level.
“We had a great season,” Bonilla said. “Those are the boys that I have been playing with my whole life so playing with them is great. Getting to a national final was amazing. We were a little short, but it is what it is. I had a great year with them, so we made great memories and I hope to make those memories next year also. I guess I still have one more year, I have one more year in high school and I’ll stay one more year with the nineteens. If I keep earning those minutes with the North Texas team then thanks to God and just keep working hard and seeing what happens.”
North Texas SC’s future has a pipeline of quality players thanks to the competitive Academy at Toyota Soccer Center. Many of these FC Dallas kids are having the chance to attain their dream of making it as a professional soccer player.
The ability for the Academy players to get a chance to experience the professional game is invaluable to their growth and development. Not only is this experience invaluable to the players but it means that the level of players for North Texas SC and FC Dallas will be one of the best.
Featured Image: North Texas SC/Jack Wallace